Thursday Thoughts - Talkin' RPI, writin' RPI, thinkin' RPI, RPI'ing about the RPI.

... and wishing that ranking system would go the way of the buffalo at the same time.

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(We could only wish...)

I predict I will type the letters "RPI" about 100 times in this column. But you can't help but have RPI on the brain with just two weekends of regular season play remaining for most conferences. (Of course, the smart ones don't play conference tournaments, so they've got three weekends of conference play left.). I just wonder how much the RPI is on the minds of the NCAA selection committee. There have been years where it's been too much. Let's see how 2008 turns out.

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COUPLE OF QUICK HITS FIRST---
- The big gainers in the RPI? Head toward the state of Louisiana.
* LSU jumped from No. 37 up to 22 after sweeping Kentucky.
* New Orleans jumped from No. 53, into the at-large picture at No. 33.
* Tulane, though modest by those standards, leapt from No. 56 to 51 with a series win vs. UCF.

- The big losers? Obviously...
* Oregon State, going from regional host-land at No. 14 down to No. 26 after dropping a pair at Wazzu.
* Kentucky, off the heels of getting kicked by LSU, went from No. 28 to No. 40.
* College of Charleston was quietly the biggest loser, dropping three to UNC-Greensboro and moving from No. 41 to out of the conversation at No. 56.

- And then there's these two...
* UC Irvine went 2-1 at Cal State Northridge, but dropped out of the hosting range of No. 9 down to No. 19.
* Oklahoma State was the biggest loser that won, going from No. 5 to No. 14 after beating Utah Valley State three games to one.


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WHAT THE PALM SAYS---
I got an Email from my good bud Jerry Palm last week. (For those that don't know, he's the RPI and BCS guru for college basketball and football that I have worked with in the last two Final Fours, since we were both roundball writers for CSTV.). He read my column last week that was going over all the over-the-top changes that were taking place in the RPI rankings. Well here's what he wrote to me to help explain things about college baseball rankings to thick-headed fans (and that includes me), so that they understand...

- "One important thing to remember is that rankings are relative.  A team's movement up and down is not based only on its own successes or failures, but also those of the teams around them in the rankings.  In the RPI (and other ranking systems), it is possible to win, have your raw RPI number go up, but still have your ranking go down because of what other teams around them in the rankings do.  Another factor in team movement is the performance of that team's previous opponents (future opponents are not included in rankings).
 
Let's use Rice as an example.  You noted they went 3-0 vs ECU and jumped from 24 to 7.  Obvioulsy, the fact that ECU is highly rated as well helped the climb, but what did Rice's previous opponents do?  If their previous opponents had a great week collectively, they would move up even farther.  If not, it could stunt their growth.
 
Perhaps that's what happened with Wichita St.  Also, with WSU, the Tabor game does not count in the RPI because the RPI only counts games against D-I opponents.
 
Also, if the baseball RPI is anything like the basketball one, the closer you get to the top, the harder it is to move up because the raw rating difference between the teams gets bigger."
 
- Jerry also commented to me, "I didn't know the baseball RPI generated as much vitriol as the basketball one does."

Oh my! I assured Jerry that there was a lot MORE vitriol to the RPI for baseball because of factors like weather, geographic isolation and national powers playing home-heavy schedules. I made sure to point out to Jerry that if he wanted to see what a sham the RPI was for baseball he should just look at Oregon State, the two-time national champion. The Beavers haven't been near the Top 10 of the RPI after either of the last two regular seasons. In fact, they've been more toward the 20s or 30s. Yet there they are dominating the last two College World Series. It's definitely NOT like basketball at all. It's much more vitriolic.


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HERE'S THE RPI PLUMMET WATCH FOR THIS WEEKEND---
Won't anybody learn from Oklahoma State's mistake last weekend? Sigh.

Here are this week's teams that are on Plummet Watch, regardless of wins or losses:
- Savannah State at No. 4 Florida State.
FSU is in a weird spot. Having lost both series to ACC rivals Miami and North Carolina, yet still at No. 2 in the RPI. Will this weekend drag them to the cusp of losing a national seeding? Probably not. But the Animals of Section B still have cause to be nervous. They still have a lot to prove.

- Utah Valley State at No. 19 Arizona.
The Wildcats already had their RPI dip from No. 11 down to No. 16 with last weekend's series loss at Cal. So this will make things even worse.

- Loyola Marymount at No. 3 Arizona State.
This one won't be as bad as the two above, I mean, LMU's RPI is at No. 73, so it's not a killer. But I still think ASU has (uncharacteristically) played way too many home games and not done all that crash-hot when on the road (just 7-6).

- Pacific at No. 10 UC Irvine.
Irvine again? Damn. And I know the Anteaters can't help it, since the Tigers are a conference foe, but at just 9-34 and No. 212 in the RPI, Pacific is doing its Big West mates no favors this year.

- No. 13 Wichita State at Evansville.
Gah! I can't figure out how EU's season has gone THIS bad. They sit at 13-36 and 3-15 for now and won't help the Shocks cause for getting a home regional. And despite all the losses to Big 12 teams, I know it sounds weird when I say that I still like WSU as a sleeper for the NCAA tournament. Just love the arms of Musgrave, Shafer and Capra.


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THE TOP 10 PLACES TO BE THIS WEEKEND---
Lord, just split me in ten and let me be on my ways...

1- The place where a national seed could be decided.
No. 6 Texas A&M (41-8, 18-3) at No. 7 Nebraska (36-8, 15-5)
Not to be mellow-dramatic here, but just about everything is at stake in Lincoln this weekend. But let's face it, A&M has a 2.5 game lead going in, so even getting just one victory will keep the Ags in first place. But a Top 8 seeding, or a No. 1 seeding and home field advantage is on the line for the two Big 12 powers. I think Aaron Fitt made an important point earlier this week, it will be the senior starting arms of the Huskers playing at home that should prevail over the frosh starting arms of the Aggies. Only question is, will NU win two games? Or all three? My bet is on two... but I'm not driving to Vegas to place the bets in person or anything.

A&M-RobChildress.jpg
(How will Rob Childress and Co. handle the national attention this weekend?)


2- The place where a home regional could be decided.
No. 14 Georgia (31-16, 17-6) at No.11 Vanderbilt (36-13, 14-9)
Okay, I'm probably wrong here because Georgia has a home regional all but wrapped up I'm sure, but they're still playing for a national seed as well. Vandy, on the other hand, has hopes to play at home in the post-season still dangling in front of it. And they seem to be turning things around too, sweeping Tennessee last weekend and going 17-3 in their last 20.

3- The places where great generals are made and the Patriot League champion will be decided.
No. 4-seed Bucknell at No. 1-seed Army.
No. 3-seed Holy Cross at No. 2-seed Navy.
I love small conference post-season baseball. I wish I could see more of it. There's nothing like seeing a team reach the apex of its season. Because more than likely the champion in these leagues will be grist for the mill of the big boy major conferences. (Although I love when they pull first round NCAA tournament upsets too). And Patriot League is doing this the right way now. Long gone is the three-team playoff decided in two days time. Now, these four teams will play a best-of-three series this weekend and the winners meet in another best-of-three next weekend.

4- The place where the most freakish RPIs in the country reside.
Washington State (26-20, 5-10) at Washington (29-16, 8-7).
Have you seen a bigger poster child for the "RPI is a Croc" than this matchup? Get this, Wazzu is in last place in the Pac 10. Last, at 5-10. Yet their RPI is at No. 21. Meanwhile, Udub is catching fire and sitting at 3rd in the Pac 10. 3rd, at 8-7. Yet their RPI is down at No. 101. What the?...

Should be a fun series with interesting contrasts. I was impressed with the Husky arms last week in the sweep at USC. And the Coogs are swingin' some mighty sticks right now, having just plastered the defending national champions for 30 runs in three games. Oooh! Where's the College Gameday crew when we need them?

5- Tulane (33-15, 10-6) at No. 24 East Carolina (36-13, 11-7)
Post-season jockeying is all the rage here as these two teams are coming in on hot streaks and playing some of their best baseball of the season. Shooter Hunt seems to be a certain Friday W for the Green Wave. And CF/football team QB Anthony Scelfo got some national pub for making that slam-into-the-wall catch in Tuesday's New Orleans game. It showed up on ESPN's Top 10 Plays of the Day at No. 2.

Tulane-AntScelfo.jpg
(Obviously, Anthony Scelfo has been a main cog in the Wave attack)

6- No. 20 Cal (30-15, 9-9) at No. 18 Stanford (28-16-2, 10-5).
Finally, this series means more than a bunch of smart people in the Bay area having bragging rights over another bunch of smart people in the Bay area. Both could use the boost for the post-season, but the Trees are still within striking distance of league-leading Arizona State, sitting a half-game back. If they pull through and win the Pac 10, I'm predicting a national seed is still not out of the question (although could you guys start winning some mid-week games right about now?).

7- Houston (30-18, 11-7) at No. 5 Rice (36-11, 15-3)
I love this cross-town rivalry. The Coogs are still smarting from that three-game sweep at the hands of Southern Miss two weeks ago. But they are within striking distance of the big dance at No. 50 and a good schedule the rest of the way. In the 11 years of the Silver Glove Series, UofH has won only once, in 2000. Going into this weekend, the season series is tied 1-1. Wes Musick (7-3, 4.04) gives the Cougars their best chance at a W on Friday. Rice is still on cruise control, having gone 17-2 since April Fool's Day.

8- UNC-Wilmington (36-11-1, 20-3-1) at James Madison (31-13, 18-5)
So if you're the commissioner of the CAA, who do you cheer for here? Right now, UNCW is in pretty solid shape to make an at-large appearance in the NCAAs (currently a No. 29 RPI), but JMU is still fighting tooth-and-nail to get there (at No. 69), and still has an outside shot, especially with a series win here. Do you hope UNCW improves its resume with a dominant conference performance? Or do you put the Seahawks at-large status in peril in hopes that the Dukes can improve theirs?

Either way, look for a lot of offense as these two teams hit .314 and .320 respectively. And the pitching staffs, though still two of the best in the CAA, sport rather high 4.82 and 5.28 ERAs.

9- No. 9 San Diego (38-13, 15-3) at San Francisco (29-22, 10-8)
With an RPI down at No. 84, I realize the Dons have slim hopes for an at-large bid to the Big Dance. But think of it this way... USF is in a dog fight for 2nd place in the WCC, bunched up with Pepperdine and Santa Clara. Both of those teams play lower-tier teams in Portland and St. Mary's this weekend. So the Dons need to win to stay within striking distance of the WCC playoffs, which match up only the top two teams.

10- UC Santa Barbara (30-17, 9-6) at No. 25 Long Beach State (28-17, 9-6)
Well it's either sink or swim for the Gauchos. Sure, they're tied with the Dirtbags and UC Davis at third in the Big West, but with an RPI at No. 65 and the fact that it's not likely the NCAA committee will take five Big Westerners, this is a do-or-die series. Meanwhile, the Beach is still looking for that magic touch that had them playing better than anyone in the country in its first 20 games. Andrew Liebel and Vance Worley give them that chance to recapture the early season glory on Fridays and Saturdays.


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IDEA FOR A NEW SHOW CALLED "40SOMETHING"---
Take the most promising teams in the country, dress them up as supposed-to-be-successful yuppies and watch them whine about their lives the whole show long.

Okay, not really. But if you want to see the most disappointing teams in the country this year, just look in the 40s of this week's RPI rankings.

40- Kentucky
Pre-season: No. 25 nationally, 3rd in SEC East
Currently: 35-14, 11-13, 8th in the SEC.
The problem is: Just like last year, a Downy-soft early slate put up a smokescreen to all of us. The Cats started out 19-0, but now they're playing people that can do damage.

45- Baylor
Pre-season: Picked 3rd in the Big 12 pre-season coach's poll.
Currently: 28-22, 10-14, 6th in the Big 12.
The problem is: Weak hitting and control problems on the mound. BU is second to last in the Big 12 in both offense (.284) and walks issued (198). And could there really be something to this Steve Smith to his alma mater Mississippi State thing?

46- UCLA
Pre-season: Ranked No. 1 by Baseball America
Currently: 24-21, 7-8, 6th in the Pac 10
The problem is: Pitching inconsistency and a bit of the injury bug. But the bottom line is once you get down, Pac 10 play is no place to try to regain your confidence.

47- Ole Miss
Pre-season: No. 7 nationally and 1st in the SEC
Currently: 31-19, 12-12, 6th in the SEC.
The problem is: ... a complete mystery. In SEC games, the Rebs are second-to-last in scoring and defense. Power arms like Cody Satterwhite and Lance Lynn need to ratchet it up a notch.

48- Missouri
Pre-season: No. 6 in Baseball America and 2nd in the Big 12 coach's poll.
Currently: 32-16, 11-10, 4th in Big 12.
The problem is: There is no cloning device to replicate another Aaron Crow and Jacob Priday.


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30 DAYS IN THE HOLE---
Forgot to mention this last week, but I heard a new phrase at the Pepperdine-San Diego game last Sunday. USD's Rich Hill came out to make a point of contention with home plate umpire Ruben Chavira about some balls-and-strikes calls. Of course, you know umps have no tolerance for that, so Chavira kept yelling to Coach Hill, "Get back in the hole! I don't want to hear anything about my strike zone, get back in the hole!"

I've never heard a dugout referred to as a "hole" before. So there you go, make it catch on people.

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(WCC umpire Ruben Chavira didn't like Coach Hill's tactics too much)


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THIS WEEK'S YOU TUBE MOMENT, SOUTHERN STYLE---
Check out this short clip from The Roger Cador Show as we see a jog-off home run by Southern's Brian McDavid in a game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on April 13th:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3WGGkEodjc

After seeing the Jags play out at the Urban Invitational earlier this year, I have to say they're a whole lot of fun to watch. With their dugout chants, spirited play and the easily affable Cador as head coach, this is another prime example here as we listen to coach's comments during the highlight show. The Jags won the Western Division of the SWAC with an 18-6 mark and will play Alabama State in an opening round game of the SWAC tournament on May 14th.


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THIS WEEK'S TRIVIA QUESTION---
(Oh crap, that reminds me, I still owe Oklahoma pitcher Andrew Doyle five bucks. My bad.) Name the All American pitcher that unfortunately also holds the record for most losses in the College World Series?

Need a hint? He was the top draftee in his class and also played basketball on a Final Four team.

Whoever gets it right gets a free cold one from me in Omaha.


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Okay people, enjoy your second-to-last weekend of college baseball. It's that cruel crunch time of the season, so I hope your hearts don't break this weekend. But if they do, well, that's the RPI for ya'.

G'night.

Comments

The answer to your trivia question would be Ben McDonald from LSU back in the late 80's.

And speaking of LSU, how could you leave the LSU/Mississippi State series off your list of places to be this weekend? These are the final games at the soon-to-be replaced Alex Box Stadium, home to the great Tiger teams that won 5 national titles between 1991 and 2000. That is unless they stay hot and host a regional, but that is extremely unlikely. LSU has been counting down the games this year by changing the number of games remaining on the LF wall before each game. Mississippi State's great coach, Ron Polk, who is retiring this year, will do the honors tonight and retiring AD Skip Bertman(coach of those championship teams) does it for the finale.

Trivia: Ben McDonald from LSU?
And if im right, i do live in omaha...

Your question didn't take too long, as I remember the 89 CWS where LSU's Ben McDonald seemed to throw 100 innings, and lost several heart breakers in late inning meltdowns...this particular CWS was a slugfest and one of the best in recent memory. Ben was a freshman forward on LSU's 1986 final four team..he did not play after his freshman season. If my KY Wildcat team can man-up and get to Omaha, I'll buy you numerous beers.
David in Colorado

Answer to the to the trivia question- Ben McDonald LSU

Hmmm. Judging by the quick responses (and correct answers), I think I made this week's trivia question too easy.

Eric

Maybe a better trivia question would be which Stanford player hit a grand slam to beat LSU and hang one of those losses on Big Ben?

Great article yesterday and I agree with you;the RPI must RIP. Thanka for the Greenwave plug.Due you think; if the greenies can man up and get clutch hitting and win back to back series against ECU and Rice there Ranking should greatly improve and possibly host a reginal?

Enjoyed the article. Always a pleasure to read your stuff. I am still shaking my head in disbelief about the differences in RPI between Washington State and Washington. Can you please try to make some sense of it?

Kelly,

How many times do I have to say it? The RPI is a steaming pile of dung and needs to be scooped up and put in the rubbish bin. Teams like the Washington schools that are geographically isolated - also add the New Mexico's, Texas Tech's, Arizona's, and of course the poster child, Oregon State - are going to have weird RPIs because they don't have anyone near them to play in mid-week games and usually have a tough time finding people available to travel to their joint for pre-conference weekends. Also, consider that Washington U. has played a pretty easy slate compared to Wazzu. Still, the only true explanation for the disparity? 'Coz the RPI blows.

Eric

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Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert